NYC suburbs to Las Vegas, nonstop. Breeze gives Westchester its 1st-ever cross-country flight
Westchester County Airport (HPN) is a special place for me.
I grew up just five minutes from the airport, in New York City’s northern suburbs, and the place helped kindle my love for aviation.
I remember sitting in seventh grade French class at Blind Brook Middle School, watching airplanes out the window on final for HPN’s Runway 34. For an AvGeek, the airport was a more exciting — and louder — place 20 years ago. The roar of the DC-9s of Northwest Airlines was the norm, and we’d often also see BAe-146 quad jets and American Airlines’ Fokker 100s.
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I remember being driven past the airport in the days after the tragic attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and seeing the Westchester County Police blocking off the terminal area.
And, more recently, when I was studying for my aviation master’s degree, I spent a semester using HPN as a case study for my airport operations class, partaking in an airfield inspection, compiling a mock airport certification manual and learning about the airport’s firefighting capabilities.
I thought I knew HPN well. But I never thought I’d see the day when transcontinental service was launched from this low-key yet busy airport about 30 miles north of LaGuardia Airport (LGA).
So, when I learned that Breeze Airways was coming to HPN — and launching the airports’ first-ever transcontinental service — I was excited. I cover a lot of route announcements for TPG, but this one was different — and personal for me.
It was personal for Breeze CEO David Neeleman, too.
Neeleman, who is best-known as the founder of New York-based JetBlue, lived in nearby Fairfield County, Connecticut, when he ran that airline. Fairfield is a key part of HPN’s "catchment area" — or geographic footprint from which it can reasonably expect to draw passengers.
When I spoke to Neeleman ahead of Breeze’s April announcement of the HPN service, he reminisced about watching his kids play competitive lacrosse at another nearby school and watching the planes takeoff and land at the airport.
Neeleman, before leaving JetBlue, brought it to HPN, where that's carrier's service began in March 2007. It’s now HPN’s largest air carrier — by far — and a highly profitable station for the airline.
Now, Neeleman will attempt a similar act in White Plains — as the airport is often known to locals — this time with the second U.S. airline he founded, Breeze.
While Breeze has served HPN since June, it’s mostly been service to Southeastern destinations. That changed Thursday, when the airline began serving Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (LAS).
That run-up to this service didn’t go fully as planned, owing to delivery and certification delays with the airline’s fleet of new Airbus A220-300s. (It’s those very A220s that make this type of transcontinental route possible — carrying a full load to Las Vegas and points west off of HPN’s relatively short 6,549-foot runway.)
The first transcontinental flight was supposed to be on Wednesday, to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — an inaugural flight now set for Nov. 3. Another transcontinental route from HPN to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was axed completely. And, in an unusual move, the route to Las Vegas launched Thursday will only operate seven more round trips — twice weekly between now and Oct. 2, before it also gets cut. But, with the LAX route remaining on the schedule, the LAS route is an appetizer of sorts for Westchester County residents — a preview of longer-term transcontinental service that they'll now enjoy from their hometown airport.
Here’s what the experience was like on this inaugural transcontinental flight.
I originally was booked for the Los Angeles inaugural, which was announced in April. In June, that flight got postponed until November, so I switched to the Las Vegas inaugural, which was still scheduled for the following day. For $334, TPG purchased one of Breeze’s “Nicest” first-class recliner seats, of which there are 36 in this configuration of the A220. That seat comes with two free checked bags, as well as a free carry-on bag. It also comes with free snacks and beverages. For the more discount-minded passengers, Breeze’s base fare “Nice” seats were still selling at $184 the night before the flight.
Given the length of the flight, the quality and comfort of the Nicest seat and the fact that snacks and beverages were included, I consider this fare to be a tremendous value.
At the airport
By far the biggest selling point of Westchester County Airport among locals is its convenience. LGA has a perimeter rule (except on Saturdays), which means that the closest airport for local residents to catch a flight to points west of Denver is generally John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) or Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). That trip generally takes more than an hour and is susceptible to unpredictable New York-area traffic.
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When I checked in for my flight the day before, I was given Breeze’s standard reminder to arrive at the airport two hours before my flight. I laughed, because that's not needed at HPN, where cutting it close doesn't usually get you in trouble. When I arrived at 7:40 a.m. — a mere 55 minutes before the 8:35 a.m. flight, I knew I was too early. So, I headed upstairs to the airport’s observation area to snap some photos of the inbound aircraft arriving. That room is glassed in, and the lights are kept off, to minimize glare.
Once the my airplane arrive on its inbound flight, I headed through security. The Transportation Security Administration PreCheck lane had just one passenger in front of me. Had there been a longer line, or had I really been running late, I could have used CLEAR, which is also available at HPN. While HPN’s gate area is tiny and crowded, an hourly passenger cap in force at the airport tends to keep security lines manageable for most of the day.
Inside the gate area, you’ll find a general seating area, some bathrooms and a small convenience store selling various sundries and beverages that aren’t allowed through security. A poorly organized line formed early for our flight, though that’s more the challenge of operating in such a small space than anything that Breeze could have controlled.
Boarding for Breeze Flight 298 started late — we later found out that one of the flight attendant jumpseats wasn’t working and needed to be written up by maintenance personnel. But that was completed by 8:37 a.m., just two minutes after the scheduled departure time. With a whopping 36 “Nicest” seats, Group 1 was a crowded boarding group on Thursday’s flight.
There were no festivities at the gate or any special announcements about the flight — perhaps owing to the somewhat awkward situation of having an inaugural flight on a route that will end in a few weeks. In fact, I did not see any aviation enthusiasts who typically book these types of inaugural flights. I did see one person taking a photo of the gate information display screen that said “Las Vegas,” but perhaps he was excited to be going on vacation and was simply looking for something to post on Instagram.
What struck me the most upon boarding was the new plane smell — it hit me and hit me hard. This A220, registered N214BZ, was delivered new to Breeze in July from Airbus’ assembly line at the Mobile Downtown Airport (BFM) in Alabama. The aircraft was in spotless condition, and the massive “Nicest” cabin seemed to be never-ending in length — truly something I've not seen before with a narrowbody aircraft. (TPG’s Zach Griff has an extensive tour of Breeze’s A220, if you’re interested in learning more about how the cabin is configured and the details of the seats.) Breeze is also introducing a less-premium A220 configuration on some deliveries.
I enjoyed some of the bells and whistles of the “Nicest” seat. I thought the iPad holder on the seat in front of me was well-designed, and I liked the spacious tray table, which comfortably fit my 13” MacBook Pro as well as some snacks. While in-seat power is available at this seat, be sure to bring an extension cord if you have a Mac: my power brick did not fit the 120-volt outlet. USB-A and USB-C charging is also available.
Once the jumpseat issue was written up, we pushed back from the gate at 9 a.m. sharp. We then were issued a brief departure delay by air traffic control and were airborne by 9:22 a.m. off of HPN’s Runway 34 — the same runway where I gazed at arriving traffic as a kid. As is typical for the A220, the takeoff roll began with a distinct high-pitched “whale” noise from the aircraft’s technologically-advanced Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines, but was incredibly quiet otherwise.
Soon after takeoff, the flight attendant serving the “Nicest” cabin came around with a basket of water bottles and blueberry vanilla cashew Kind bars. She then followed with another snack basket, with a choice of a can of Pringles or a bag of Chex Mix — I went for the Pringles. Finally, she did a beverage service — via a tray, similar to Southwest Airlines or in a premium cabin. I had a can of Diet Coke, which was served with a clear plastic cup full of ice.
Breeze has ovens installed in its A220s — a sign that the carrier could offer some sort of hot meals on its future flights.
I used the forward lavatory in this A220, and unsurprisingly found modern furnishings and a spacious design. Breeze does not have any windows in its A220 lavatories like Delta Air Lines does.
The young crew was kind, and seemed happy to be there. They looked like they were having fun, conversing with a number of passengers. I passed the time on the flight watching content from HBO Max on my iPad and writing this report. Sadly, the news of Queen Elizabeth II's death came during the flight — a fact I did not learn about until after I landed. Breeze cannot install the Wi-Fi on these aircraft soon enough.
We arrived in Las Vegas at 10:56 a.m. local time, and pulled up to Terminal 3's gate D20 10 minutes later. That actually got us in a bit early, despite the late departure from HPN.
The convenience of being able to show up at a local airport less than an hour before a transcontinental flight departs is unmatched, and Breeze is banking on this as a key selling point for residents of Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. While Breeze has encountered some headwinds so far — there are only seven more opportunities to fly this particular route before it ends in October — a new flight to Los Angeles launches in November and is expected to stay.
Breeze's "Nicest" seat on a nearly five-hour long flight is an incredible value. For $334, I had a very comfortable recliner seat, and bags were included — as were drinks and a snack. I look forward to when Breeze offers Wi-Fi, an important feature for me, and to when it gets to fire up the ovens it has installed on its A220. For now, plan on packing a sandwich or a salad if you're hungry.
My only regret is not having this service when I lived in the area!